Australia may be girt by sea, but as we know all too well, is not blessed with an abundance of fresh water. On top of this, the majority of seafood species eaten in Australia are caught out to sea along our extensive coastline, and therefore, in salt water. As a result, our seafood palate tends towards saltwater species. However, we also have some fantastic native freshwater species, caught in estuaries and rivers right around Australia.
Some freshwater species have a bad name due to people having unfortunate, ‘muddy’ eating experiences (often when fishing recreationally), but don’t be deterred by these rumours! The delicious freshwater species in this list are caught by the experts, and the areas in which they are caught are managed carefully to avoid that kind of flavour.
With that said, here are five freshwater seafood species we think you should try!
At the top of our list sits the Barcoo Grunter. Also known as the Jade Perch, this star of the north has such fine eating qualities that farming has begun in earnest. They feed on anything they can including fish, crustaceans, and insects. This wide diet allows them to quickly build up deposits of fat when there’s an abundance of food available and to tap into that fat when times are leaner.
When plump, Barcoo Grunter has one of the highest levels of omega-3 found in any fish. The flavour of the meat is clean and rich, lending itself to grilling or pan-frying, rendering some of the fat and using some acidity to cut through the richness.
Murray Cods are the largest exclusively freshwater fish on Earth and hold the highest rank in Australian Freshwater species. Capable of reaching well over 100kg in the wild, this species are a slow-growing, territorial fish, which travels up to 120km to spawn before returning home to their favourite submerged log. Unfortunately, they were also one of the first overfished species in Australia, and in the years since have faced many man-made battles including but not limited to irrigation, climate change, fishing pressure, and introduced species.
As such, Murray Cod are subject to strict recreational limits, with no commercial wild harvest at all. These days, the Murray Cod for sale at the market have all been farmed under world-class conditions. This allows the fish to be harvested as juveniles, with ideal fish weighing 1.3kg. This means that the flesh is firm, and clear, with visible fat under the skin. The flesh is highly regarded and rightly so.
Along with the Murray Cod, the Silver Perch once had a far greater range in the wild than it does today, and has faced similar modern challenges. As such this species is also exclusively farmed for the commercial trade. It’s fatty while being light in flavour, with thick fillets that also retain a delicate flake. It’s versatile flesh, so have fun with it!
This fantastically adaptable species can live in pure saltwater, pure freshwater, or in a brackish mixture of the two. They range widely from the Hunter River in New South Wales and the Ashburton River in West Australia, all the way north to Papua New Guinea. They are also known to have an uncommonly varied diet, feeding on crustaceans, fish, insects, worms, as well as both aquatic and terrestrial plants.
Although not yet widely consumed in Australia, when treated properly, this fish is delicious. Our advice is to use this species like the Americans do - as the star of a big family fry-up… The low price of this fish will help to keep the cost down and allow for generous portions – it’s a win-win!
Born in tropical waters off the coast of New Caledonia, the first thing this species must do is manage to navigate thousands of kilometres, all the way back to freshwater streams, rivers, and dams on the east coast of Australia. They then spend a few years maturing, enjoying a diet befitting of their status as apex predators - crustaceans, fish, molluscs, insects, and even juvenile birds.
Male Longfin Eel are capable of reaching lengths of over 1.7m and weights of over 22kg, with females smaller. But no matter what the size or gender, Longfin Eels possess one of the richest, most complex meats in seafood. Though there are many ways to enjoy Eels, the best methods are ones that work with this richness, such as barbequing or hot-smoking.
For something outrageously good, take boned fillets and just puncture the skin, with a pin or scalpel, and perforate it as much as you can bear. Take skewers and insert them perpendicularly through the fillet. Brush on a teriyaki marinade and grill over coals. Turn and baste, turn and baste, turn and baste - keep going until the fat under the skin renders and begins to bubble through. You will notice the skin frying in its own fat and dripping over the flesh side. Keep turning and basting for around twenty minutes - you won’t dry it out. Serve with a punchy salad.